The Sporting News' featherweight boxing rankings: Who’s the best at 126?

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SN's Featherweight Rankings
(The Sporting News Illustration)

Luis Alberto Lopez kicked off a period of intrigue for boxing's featherweight world champions with a unanimous decision win over Joet Gonzalez on September 15.

Lopez marked Mexican Independence Day weekend with victory in Texas. completing a successful second defence on his IBF title.

WBA champion Leigh Wood faces Lopez's former foe Josh Warrington in an all-British blockbuster on October 7, while Cuba's lavishly gifted WBO king Robeisy Ramirez is slated for a November 4 return.

The Sporting News recently gathered opinions from members of its combat team from across the world (Dom Farrell, Tom Gray, Andreas Hale, and Dan Yanofsky), who now assess the field at 126 pounds.

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12. Otabek Kholmatov

  • Record: 11-0 (10 KOs)
  • Next fight: No fight scheduled

Don’t let the fact that Kholmatov is only 11 fights into his professional career fool you. The 24-year-old from Uzbekistan looks like a handful.

Fighting out of Hollywood, Florida, Kholmatov is a free-swinging lefty with quick hands and concussive punch power. He’s already broken British hearts by destroying the previously unbeaten Thomas Patrick Ward in February, and he’s ready for an encore.

The WBA ordered their champion, Leigh Wood, to commence negotiations with Kholmatov after his win over Lara. Wood's promoter Matchroom secured an exemption for the Warrington fight to take place but Kholmatov will get his shot at the WBA belt next.

11. Ray Ford

  • Record: 14-0-1 (7 KOs)
  • Next fight: No fight scheduled

Known as “Savage”, this 24-year-old southpaw from Camden, New Jersey is looking to break into the world title picture in a hurry.

Since turning professional in March 2019, Ford has been on a perfect path with the exception of a split decision draw against Aaron Perez in 2021. Five wins since that blemish helped prepare Ford for a big opportunity against former champ Jessie Magdaleno.

Ford floored the more experienced Magdaleno twice en route to a dominant 12-round unanimous decision triumph. This former Golden Gloves winner is definitely one to keep an eye on.

10. Nick Ball

  • Record: 18-0 (11 KOs)
  • Next fight: No fight scheduled

The 26-year-old Ball turned professional in 2017 and had completed his learning curve by early 2022.

In April of that year, Ball was the underdog when he faced fellow Brit Isaac Lowe on the Tyson Fury-Dillian Whyte undercard. Before a huge crowd at Wembley Stadium, Ball dominated the bout and produced a sixth-round stoppage triumph.

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Subsequent wins over Nathanael Kakololo, Jesus Ramirez Rubio, and Ludumo Lamati have been no less impressive, and Ball is on course for a big opportunity soon.

9. Reiya Abe

  • Record: 25-3-1 (10 KOs)
  • Next fight: No fight scheduled

This cerebral Japanese lefty honed his trade fighting on multiple cards at the famous Korakuen Hall in Tokyo.

Abe’s rise has been slow due to mixed results, but he finally broke free of the pack by posting a 12-round unanimous decision victory over countryman Hinata Maruta last May.

That win was followed by a close points win over the previously unbeaten Jinki Maeda, before Abe produced a career-best performance to widely outpoint two-weight world champion Kiko Martinez in April 2023.

8. Josh Warrington

  • Record: 31-2-1 (8 KOs)
  • Next fight: Leigh Wood on October 7 in Sheffield, England

Warrington paid his dues during his ascent to world level, winning British, Commonwealth, and European championships.

When it came time to prove himself against the elite, “The Leeds Warrior” rose to the occasion and outpointed talented Welshman Lee Selby to claim the IBF featherweight championship.

Subsequent wins over former champ Carl Frampton and Kid Galahad established Warrington as the No. 1 fighter in the division. However, injury and the COVID-19 pandemic contributed to a dip in form, and Warrington was sensationally stopped in nine rounds by Mauricio Lara.

An inconclusive draw with Lara in their rematch proved little, but Warrington was back to his best against old foe Kiko Martinez, who he stopped in seven rounds to retain his old IBF title.

Warrington was edged by Luis Alberto Lopez in his maiden defence and has endured a frustrating 2023 on the sidelines. He will hope to take out that frustration on Wood in a keenly awaited clash.

7. Mauricio Lara

  • Record: 26-3-1 (19 KOs)
  • Next Fight: No fight scheduled

In early 2021, Lara was plucked out of Mexico as a safe option for the unbeaten Josh Warrington, who was gearing up to take on bigger game.

That was a mistake.

With 18 knockouts in 22 wins, Lara carried the knockout ratio of an authentic puncher, and that’s exactly what he proved to be. Warrington was dropped, hurt on multiple occasions, and ultimately succumbed to a brutal ninth-round knockout.

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A rematch ended in an unsatisfactory draw, but Lara continued to swat the opposition out of his way like flies. Emilio Sanchez and Jose Sanmartin suffered crushing third-round knockout defeats before Lara came of age with a seventh-round stoppage of Leigh Wood.

Celebrations didn’t last long, however, and Wood regained his title by outpointing Lara with room to spare. The Mexican's struggles with the weight ahead of that contest - he actually dropped his title on the scales - mean a move up the divisions could be on the cards.

6. Mark Magsayo

  • Record: 24-2 (16 KOs)
  • Next Fight: No fight scheduled

While Magsayo produced an eye-catching 10th-round knockout over Julio Ceja in August 2021 to secure his position as the WBC’s mandatory challenger, virtually no one expected him to unseat the lightning-quick champion Gary Russell Jr.

Well, that’s exactly what happened – with a little help from fate.

In the fourth round of that encounter, Russell suffered a debilitating right shoulder injury and fought the remainder of the fight one-handed. At the end of 12 rounds, there was a new champion, although Magsayo’s reign would be short-lived.

In his maiden defense, the Filipino star lost his championship to Rey Vargas via split decision and then dropped a unanimous decision to Brandon Figueroa in his very next fight. The former protege of Manny Pacquiao is an excellent fighter, but he needs a meaningful win to stay relevant.

5. Robeisy Ramirez

  • Record: 12-1 (7 KOs)
  • Next Fight: TBC on November 4 card at the Tahoe Blue Events Center

Ramirez is the most naturally talented boxer in the featherweight division. A double Olympic champion (2012 and 2016), the Cuban sensation suffered an astonishing split decision defeat to Adan Gonzalez in his pro debut, but he’s been punch-perfect since.

Southpaw Ramirez put together a dozen straight wins, including a revenge win over Gonzalez, and captured the WBO title at the expense of Isaac Dogboe.

The skids are greased for Ramirez to become a pound-for-pound entrant -- that’s how good he is. It’s also encouraging that Top Rank is keeping him active and he subjected Satoshi Shimizu to a one-sided beatdown on the Naoya Inoue-Stephen Fulton undercard in July, claiming a fifth-round stoppage.

MORE: Lomachenko prepares to appeal Haney loss

4. Brandon Figueroa

  • Record: 24-1-1 (18 KOs)
  • Next Fight: No fight scheduled

Figueroa was denied world title glory in a brutal draw with Julio Ceja in 2019 but eventually fulfilled his dreams by halting Damien Vazquez for the WBA super bantamweight title in September of that year.

Seven months later, Figueroa scored a career-best victory over then-WBC titleholder Luis Nery to unify the division and kick open the door to stardom. In his very next fight, however, the excellent Stephen Fulton edged Figueroa on a decision to claim the titles.

“The Heartbreaker” has broken several hearts at 122 pounds and he’s now taken that big frame up to featherweight. Since making the jump in July 2022, Figueroa has halted Carlos Castro in six and outpointed ex-champ Mark Magsayo.

3. Leigh Wood

  • Record: 27-3 (16 KOs)
  • Next Fight: Josh Warrington on October 7 in Sheffield, England

While there’s the temptation to label Wood an overachiever, you can’t ignore what’s in front of you. The amiable Englishman has underrated ring IQ, neat skills, a remarkable engine, respectable power, and bucketloads of fighting heart.

You don’t believe it? Ask Xu Can, Michael Conlan, and Mauricio Lara.

As an underdog, Wood handed Can and Conlan 12th-round knockout defeats to establish himself as a world-level force. On Saturday past, the Nottingham star avenged a seventh-round stoppage defeat at the hands of Mauricio Lara to box rings around the Mexican knockout artist and reclaim the WBA title.

At 34 years old, Wood is closer to the end than the beginning, but he’s going nowhere right now and dreams of headlining at his beloved City Ground. That remains the plan if he is able to take care of business against Warrington.

2. Luis Alberto Lopez

  • Record: 29-2 (16 KOs)
  • Next Fight: No fight scheduled

A year ago, Lopez was a relatively unknown IBF mandatory challenger. Now, he’s one of the best featherweights in the world.

While British fans got a taste of what Lopez could do when he blasted out the previously unbeaten Isaac Lowe in December 2021, the hard-hitting Mexican was installed as an underdog when he faced then-IBF champ Josh Warrington. It was a highly competitive fight and Lopez prevailed via 12-round majority decision in Leeds.

As was the case against Warrington, Lopez again ventured into enemy territory for his maiden defence. In the opposite corner was Michael Conlan, who has been groomed for world title glory since turning professional in 2017. On May 27, Lopez tore up the script and battered Conlan to defeat in five rounds.

After his points with over Joet Gonzalez, Lopez will now have his eyes on unification matchups.

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1. Rey Vargas

  • Record: 36-1 (22 KOs)
  • Next Fight: No fight scheduled

An underrated and unappreciated two-weight world champion, Vargas has never lost in this weight class.

The Mexican technician actually made his name at super bantamweight, with five defences of the WBC title. Among his best wins in this division were Gavin McDonnell, Ronny Rios, and Oscar Negrete.

Injury and the COVID-19 pandemic contributed to a 20-month layoff, and Vargas returned to the ring as a featherweight. He has been no less effective and in his second fight outpointed esteemed boxer-puncher Mark Magsayo to win the WBC title.

Vargas has yet to make a title defence and is coming off a decision loss to the excellent O’Shaquie Foster, who outpointed him for the WBC super featherweight crown in February.

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Tom Gray is a deputy editor covering Combat Sports at The Sporting News.